BREAKING: Gay Houston employees who signed up for same-sex benefits sue city

City of Houston employee Noel Freeman, right, and his husband Brad Pritchett were married in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

Houston city employee Noel Freeman, right, and his husband, Brad Pritchett, were married in Washington, D.C., in 2010. Freeman, who is president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, said getting a notice from the city saying same-sex benefits had been halted was “like a punch in the stomach.” (Courtesy of Freeman and Pritchett)

The city of Houston is facing a second lawsuit over same-sex benefits — this one from an LGBT advocacy group seeking to preserve them.

Lambda Legal sued Houston today on behalf of three city employees who signed up for the benefits after Mayor Annise Parker extended them in November.

State District Judge Lisa Millard issued a temporary restraining order halting the benefits last week after a group of Harris County Republicans filed a lawsuit to block them.

Ken Upton, senior counsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas, said the case is about equal pay for equal work.

“City employees who are married to same-sex spouses are doing the same work as coworkers who are married to different-sex spouses,” Upton said. “These employees, some who have worked for the City for many years, acted in good faith when notified the City was extending health coverage benefits to their legal spouses. They enrolled for spousal benefits, including health insurance, paid the premiums, scheduled doctor visits and underwent treatments that will require ongoing care. Now, suddenly, the rug is pulled out from under them.”

The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is Noel Freeman, president of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus. Freeman is an administrative coordinator with the city’s Public Works & Engineering Office. Freeman and his husband, Brad Pritchett, were married in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

“The notice from the City was like a punch in the stomach,” Freeman said. “Brad and I were so excited when we learned we could enroll him on my plan that we signed him up within an hour of finding out. And now, just a month later, they tell us they’re going to have to take it away, that once again I will be paid less than my married heterosexual colleagues for the same work. How is this fair?”

The other plaintiffs are Yadira Estrada, a police officer who married her partner, Jennifer Flores, in Maine in June; and Ron Reeser, a systems administrator who married his husband, Vince Olivier, in Canada in 2008.

A hearing on the lawsuit filed by the Harris County Republicans is set for Jan. 6 in Judge Millard’s court. Read Lambda Legal’s full press release here. Read the brief that was filed today by going here.

— John Wright